Boomers Mourn the Loss of More Influencers

It is tradition at the New Year for Mister Boomer to salute the men and women who have passed on in the previous year. Here are just some of the people who had an influence on boomer culture and are now gone:

Ray Thomas (December 29, 1941 – January 4, 2018)
Mr. Thomas was a flautist, singer, composer and founding member of The Moody Blues, best known for lush orchestral arrangements mixed with rock guitar. Mister B was introduced to the band first from the single, Go Now! (1964), then by his brother playing Nights in White Satin (1967) over and over again after a breakup. Ray Thomas (and fellow bandmate Mike Pinder) contributed background vocals on The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, and harmonicas on The Fool on the Hill (1967). Along with the remaining living members of The Moody Blues, Mr. Thomas was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.

Jerry Van Dyke (July 27, 1931 – January 5, 2018)
To some boomers, Jerry Van Dyke was the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke. Yet he was an actor, musician and comedian in own right, making many guest appearances on TV, including The Dick Van Dyke Show. After turning down several TV offers, Jerry finally agreed to appear in a scripted show of his own in 1965: My Mother the Car was beloved by some boomers, and reviled by others. In later years, he had a successful run in the TV series, Coach (1989-97).

John Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018)
Unknown to many boomers by name, John Young was selected for the second group of NASA astronauts and, for 42 years, became the longest serving astronaut. He flew in the Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs. John Young flew in the first manned Gemini mission (along with Gus Grissom, 1965). He then became the first person to fly solo around the moon and one of only three people to have flown to the moon twice. In 1972, he was ninth person to have walked on the moon in Apollo 16 (Note: Alan Bean, fourth person to walk on the moon, died May 26, 2018).

Hugh Masekela (April 4,1939 – January 23, 2018)
Mr. Masekela’s biggest break came in 1968, with the release of Grazing in the Grass, an instrumental composed by Philemon Hou. The song reached number one on the Billboard charts, crossing all boundaries between rock, jazz and pop. (See: Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone)

Dennis Edwards (February 3, 1943 – February 1, 2018)
In the early sixties, Mr. Edwards was a member of the Contours, best known for Do You Love Me (1962). After the Temptations fired David Ruffin in 1968, Edwards became the lead singer. His gritty vocal moved the band’s sound to a more bluesy, soulful direction, inspiring the group to pen more socially-conscious songs. (See: Two More Giants of Boomer Music Are Gone)

Billy Graham (November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018)
Dubbed “America’s Preacher,” Graham was an evangelical minister who took his early radio broadcasts into “crusades” in the 1940s and ’50s, where he would preach to thousands over several weeks under tents pitched in parking lots. Those events drew media coverage, which landed him on television. He would arguably become the most successful evangelist ever to appear on broadcast TV. Reverend Graham became the spiritual advisor to every U.S president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He became close personal friends with Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower, and was an early opponent to racial segregation. His friendship with Richard Nixon was said to allow him to be one of the first to advise the former president he should resign.

Roger Bannister (March 23, 1929 – March 3, 2018)
Sports-minded boomers recall Roger Bannister’s feat of becoming the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He did so in his home country of England on May 6, 1954, wearing leather track shoes with metal spikes on a dirt track.

Gary Burden (May 23, 1933 – March 7, 2018)
Though boomers may not have known him by name, they surely knew his work as an album cover artist. Gary Burden designed covers for Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass, The Doors, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and went on to design Neil Young’s album covers for 35 years.

Tom Wolfe (March 2, 1930 – May 14, 2018)
Author of many popular books during the boomer years, his The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters is considered an important look at the hippie movement and an example of New Journalism.

Joseph Campanella (November 21, 1924 – May 16, 2018)
Character actors show up time and again, causing viewers to recognize the face if not the name. Joseph Campanella appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows during the boomer era, including Combat, Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Untouchables, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mannix and many others.

Robert Indiana (September 13, 1928 – May 19, 2018)
Born Robert Clark, he is best known to boomers as the artist who created his “Love” print for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 Christmas card; later it was the basis for his “Love” letter sculpture (1970) and subsequent U.S Postal Service “Love” stamp (1973).

Matt “Guitar” Murphy (December 29, 1929 – June 15, 2018)
A blues guitarist who played with legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in the 1950s, many boomers recall his turn in The Blues Brothers movie (1980) where he played Aretha Franklin’s husband and blues guitarist sideman to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers band.

Joe Jackson (July 26, 1928 – June 22, 2018)
As the patriarch of the Jackson family, he gave the Jackson 5 (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and of course, Michael) their head start in the music business, but family legal battles and allegations of abuse followed him his entire life.

Steve Ditko (November 2, 1927 – June 29, 2018)
Teamed with Stan Lee, Steve Ditko was the legendary comic book artist and the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.

Roy Carr (? 1945 – July 1, 2018)
Another person whose name may not jump out at boomers, but British music journalist Roy Carr wrote reviews of jazz, rock and pop for New Musical Express (NME) and edited NME, Vox and Melody Maker. He also authored or co-authored books on The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, as well as books on jazz.

Stan Mikita (May 20, 1940 – August 7, 2018)
Before there was a Wayne Gretzky there were guys like Stan Mikita. Remembered as one of the 100 Greatest National Hockey League Players in history, Mikita played his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks. He led the league in scoring for four seasons, was a nine-time NHL all-star and was part of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 1961. He was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1983.

Tab Hunter (born Arthur Andrew Kelm) (July 11, 1931 – July 8, 2018)
Actor Tab Hunter became a 1950s heartthrob for his big screen performances in Damn Yankees (1958), The Pleasure of His Company (1961) and Ride the Wild Surf (1964), plus dozens more into the 1980s. In addition to his acting career, Hunter’s recording of Young Love topped the Billboard pop chart in January of 1957. Though closeted during the boomer years, Hunter revealed he was gay in the 1970s, reminding people that there was no way he would have been accepted in earlier decades.

Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018)
Daughter of a Baptist preacher in Detroit, Aretha Franklin got her start as a gospel singer in her father’s church. She quickly became known as the “Queen of Soul” with a decade-long string of hits in the 1960s, including Spanish Harlem (1960), Respect (1967) and Chain of Fools (1967). A Civil Rights activist like her father, she sang at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, and the presidential inaugurations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Winner of 18 Grammy Awards, Ms. Franklin became the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987). Mister Boomer became a fan as soon as his brother brought the 45 RPM single, Respect, home.

Aretha sings to Matt “Guitar” Murphy in her memorable scene from The Blues Brothers movie.

Senator John McCain (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018)
A Navy pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, McCain spent five-and-a-half years as a POW. He became a Republican congressman from Arizona in 1983, then a Senator in 1987. He ran for president in 2000, but George Bush got the GOP nomination. McCain ran again in 2008, securing the Republican nomination, but lost the General Election to Barack Obama.

Bill Daily (August 30, 1927 – September 4, 2018)
An actor and comedian, Bill Daily left a lasting impression on boomers as astronaut Major Roger Healy, neighbor and co-worker to Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden in the TV series, I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70).

Burt Reynolds (February 11, 1936 – September 6, 2018)
An actor who appeared in TV’s Gunsmoke from 1962-65, most boomers will recall his big screen performances in The Longest Yard (1974), Deliverance (1972) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977). For other boomers, he will be remembered as the first male nude centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine (1972). Still others recall he was married to Loni Anderson, then to Judy Carne, and had well-publicized relationships with Sally Field and Dinah Shore.

Marty Balin (born Martyn Jerel Buchwald) (January 30, 1942 – September 27, 2018)
When Marty Balin met Paul Kantner at a hootenanny in 1966, the two formed the seminal psychedelic rock band, Jefferson Airplane. Balin sang, wrote songs, and played rhythm guitar, backing Grace Slick on vocals. Unhappy with the band’s movement toward the mainstream, Balin left the band he helped form in 1970. He teamed up with Grace Slick for an album in 1972, and by then, members of the former Jefferson Airplane were reforming as Jefferson Starship. Balin officially joined the band on tour in 1974. Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. To this day Mister B marks Surrealistic Pillow (1967) as one of his favorite albums of all time.

Geoff Emerick (December 5, 1945 – October 2, 2018)
Hardly a household name, yet Geoff Emerick’s work was heard by millions as The Beatles’ chief recording engineer on their legendary albums, Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and Abbey Road (1969), as well as Odyssey and Oracle for The Zombies (1967), Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You (1973) and many more.

Paul Allen (January 21, 1953 – October 15, 2018)
Alongside Bill Gates, Paul Allen was the co-founder of Microsoft. His subsequent wealth gave him the opportunity to become a major philanthropist and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. A boomer and guitarist himself, Allen’s favorite musician was Jimi Hendrix. His love of music and science fiction led him to found the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in 2000, which evolved into the current Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) in Seattle.

Don Sandburg (? 1930 – October 6, 2018)
A writer, actor, and producer, boomers will recall Mr. Sandburg’s work in television; most notably as a producer of The Banana Splits for Hanna-Barbera (debut 1970) as well as Cincinnati’s WGN-TV’s Bozo’s Circus (1960), where he portrayed Sandy the Clown.

Dorcas Reilly (July 22, 1926 – October 15, 2018)
While working as the kitchen supervisor for the Campbell’s Soup Company, Ms. Reilly invented the green bean casserole in 1955. Cream of mushroom soup had been used as a binder in casseroles since the 1930s, but she was first to pair it with green beans. Campbell’s reports that 40 percent of their cream of mushroom soup sales are attributed to people making green bean casserole on Thanksgiving. The green bean casserole was not a tradition in Mister B’s home.

Stan Lee (December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018)
By now every boomer knows who Stan Lee was, but that wasn’t always the case. As the McCarthy era shifted focus from Communism to becoming “crusaders of decency” in the 1940s and ’50s, superhero comics fell out of fashion. Comics were blamed for many of society’s ills, from juvenile delinquency to bad grades. Mr. Lee, then a comics writer for Atlas Comics, leant his talents toward romance comics, Westerns and humor. When the comics industry began its resurgence in the early 1960s, Stan Lee was at the forefront of the next wave of superheroes at Marvel Comics, becoming the writer and co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Panther and more.

William Goldman (August 12, 1931 – November 16, 2018)
Boomers will best remember William Goldman as the Oscar-winning screenwriter for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the Presidents’ Men (1976). He also wrote the boomer favorite book (and later, the movie), The Princess Bride (1973).

George H.W. Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018)
A WWII veteran, during the boomer years George Bush served as a Republican congressman from Texas. It was President Richard Nixon who appointed him ambassador to the United Nations. After Gerald Ford became president, he named Bush the chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China. A few years later he brought him back to the U.S. to serve as director of the CIA. Bush ran for president in 1976 and again in 1980. That year, Ronald Reagan got the nomination and named him his vice presidential nominee. After Reagan and his vice president’s eight years in office, Bush ran again and became the 41st President of the United States in 1988, then lost his bid for reelection to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Ken Berry (November 3, 1933 – December 1, 2018)
Many boomers will remember Ken Berry as a TV sitcom star in Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71) and Mama’s Family (1983-90), but others, like Mister Boomer, will always look fondly on his portrayal of the bumbling Captain Wilton Parmenter on F Troop (1965-67). To this day, when lost physically or mentally, Mister Boomer exclaims, “We’re the Hekawi.”

Of course, there were many, many more, but which of these illustrious people touched your lives, boomers?

Boomers Needed Manual Dexterity

While Mister Boomer was conversing with a 40-year old coworker recently, she mentioned how she had learned to type on a manual typewriter. One of the things she recalled was how difficult it had been to press a typewriter key with her pinkie fingers. Eventually she did learn, and now years later, is happy for the experience. It struck Mister B that there were many things in our boomer years that required manual dexterity and physical hand strength. Practically every “modern” thing we had still required finger and hand movement, from rotary phone dials to turning TV knobs, manual typewriters to manual steering on cars. The push-button world had begun for us, but most boomers would live a good portion of their lives turning, grabbing and twisting things that were otherwise designed to make our lives easier and better.

Mister B recalls becoming a big fan of science fiction books at an early age. He enjoyed reading about the future, and trying to imagine what it would be like. On many occasions, he would stare at his hand and try to envision what human hands might look like in a future where push buttons would replace the need for dials, knobs and levers. In Mister B’s imaginary evolution, it seemed logical that the small flaps of skin he could see stretched between his fingers would grow as the need for separate fingers dissipated. He’d look at his hand and see webbing between the fingers, much like he’d seen on the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

It remains to be seen if evolution will take that path and change our physiology, and it certainly won’t be happening in our lifetimes. Yet the fundamental way we used our hands and fingers is ever-changing, especially now at the advent of devices controlled by voice commands. Take a look at what was once commonplace, and now all but relegated to the archives of history:

Electrric typewriters existed as far back as the the 1920s, with the first one arguably invented in the early 1900s. History tells us it didn’t catch on that quickly because electricity wasn’t widespread until the late 1920s, much like internet access is still uneven in some parts of the country today. By then the Great Depression took hold. As a result of three decades of manual typewriters, units could be found in thrift shops at affordable prices, and passed down through family members right up to the boomer years. Mister B, like so many boomers, made their way through high school and college using the manual, hard-to-press keys and hand-operated carriage return. Mister B’s family typewriter was a 1929 Underwood. Nonetheless, Mister B never learned how to type, so he continues to pen these posts with the hunt-and-peck method. Brother Boomer has possession of that typewriter to this day. Mister B’s family did not own an electric typewriter at any point, even after his mother became a keypunch operator. Mister B recalls seeing electric typewriters in stores in the late sixties and early seventies.

Power steering on cars was an option on luxury cars in the 1930s, so only the wealthy could afford it. The steering wheels of cars were designed to be larger, to assist in the task of turning the wheels. Advancements in gears in the 1940s helped a little, but it was still tough to fully turn a car, pulling hand over hand on a 20-inch diameter wheel. In contrast, the steering wheels on today’s vehicles are 14- or 15-inches in diameter. By the 1960s, power steering became an option on all American-made cars. Boomers were in the market for cheap cars, though, so power steering wasn’t going to be in the cards. Mister Boomer’s father did not own a car with power steering until 1970. It took until Mister B bought his first new car in 1977 before he had power steering.

As with many “modern appliances” in Mister Boomer’s house, somewhere around the late 1960s the electric can opener came in by way of a prize for a golf or bowling banquet. His father was on a bowling team in the fall and winter, and a golf team in the spring and summer. Mister B didn’t care much for the device, though his sister liked it a lot. She was younger, and it was much easier for her to open cans of Spaghetti-Os and Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni with the electric can opener. She was plopping them into pots and warming them for herself by age eight. Mister Boomer continued to use the manual, hand-crank can opener, and still does to this day — unless it’s a can with a pop-top. He hates those, too, because they are harder for a senior Mister B to open sometimes than turning a can opener around a lid.

There are many more things we twisted, turned and grabbed in our boomer years, in order to adjust, open or control the devices that defined our modern age, such as the aforementioned rotary phone dials and TV knobs. How about screwdrivers? Power screwdrivers have supplanted hand-held tools in most cases. Stereo levers and dials? Most music is streamed these days off the internet. At most a slide of a finger on a screen can turn the volume up or down, or a voice command can do the task literally without lifting a finger.

Some boomers marvel at the speed of which their grandchildren can text on their smartphones, using just their thumbs. While that “skill” may be similar to boomers’ typing on a manual typewriter, automatic word suggestions entering as they type makes the message appear all the faster. Soon typing will be unnecessary for this function, as already voice-interpreted messages are possible on a number of devices.

Yes, boomers have seen the evolution of these devices, and built strong hands and upper body strength along the way. As our parents saw more time-saving devices enter their post-war world, we aging boomers can look forward to a lot of automated assistance in our old age. Sitting in the comfort of our own recliners, soon we’ll be able to say, “Hey Siri-Alexa-Cortana-Google-Portal (or whatever comes next), open a can of Beefaroni and warm it for me, OK?”

What memories of manual dexterity come to mind for you, boomers?